The importance of sharing has, in turn, heavily influenced other marketing strategies. Experiential events, for example, continue to grow as we seek more and more Instagrammable moments. So much so that sharing content is the primary motivation behind everything from store design to museum launches and marketing activations. The emphasis on, or obsession with, sharing content does not take the limitations of this strategy into account. As commonplace as sharing content might be, it still falls well short of representing our lived world.
A real experience at its most impactful is a singular, non-replicable moment in time. Singular does not mean it is a solitary or even private affair. Coachella and Essence Music Festival are large-scale festival events with a mass audience in attendance, but the actual moments themselves are singular. The feelings and emotions that create a particular moment can happen in a crowd of thousands.
Sharing content is a fiat experience. It serves as a proxy for a real event that is either occurring or has already happened. Either way, it is meant to include those who could not be at the real thing. It is an approximation of the real thing and suffers as a result. Despite the adage, "If you don't have a pic, it's like it never happened," significant moments are happening all the time whether or not they are shared.
Brands and influencers have made the de facto decision that the value in an event is directly related to whether it is shareable. Fiat experiences are created, enhanced, and shared to imply that a singular moment is not enough. Any moment can achieve elevation in status — as well as social media immortality — just by being shared. Of course, the individual or influencer doing the sharing also becomes part of this transcendent process.
Still, the act of sharing and consuming a moment is only an approximation of the event itself. Social media and by extension, influencers, thrive through approximation and brand activations are now created to maximize the ability to document and share.
The cult of approximation is the cusp of an increasingly slippery slope. Maintaining a higher commitment to sharing than to reality opens the door for abuse by all parties. A woman famously created a visual diary of her time at Coachella with only one caveat: She did not attend the event. The fact that she was able to stage a convincing copy of the festival is proof that the singular moment is, indeed, elusive. The more shareable an event, the easier it is to replicate it. Influencer marketing, which is already facing a crisis of fakeness, stands to see the fetishization of sharing further encourage the fake narrative.
Measuring how much an event has been shared is a valuable metric to brands because sharing and engagement have become interchangeable. But what does it mean to engage? Are these two ideas the same? Ultimately, brands are seeking to measure an intangible piece of information. Measuring how often something is shared and calling that act "engagement" is attempting to capture the essence of a deeper meaning. If marketers can't successfully measure what they really want — which is love, attachment, feeling deeper emotional resonance — they end up with a proxy. Instead, marketers will have to settle for measuring what they can, which is how we devolve into the sharing/engagement circular reasoning relationship.
Singular moments are framed by emotional resonance and that is why they both defy conventional measurement and can't truly be shared. The lack of emotional resonance can lead to an uncanny valley — the familiar, unsettling feeling that people get when interacting with something meant to mimic humans that isn't entirely realistic. Technological improvements attempt to shrink the uncanny valley to make it less discernable.
Posts about an event created primarily to be shareable create an uncanny valley. The best efforts of brands and influencers can't change the tugging sense of "not quite right" when we interact with the posts. The more we see these shared experiences, the less connected we are to them because of the uncanny valley. The staging, lighting, and the accompanying text and hashtags are close to what we know an event is supposed to be, but it lacks emotional resonance because it lacks singularity.
Brands seeking emotional resonance should focus less on creating something shareable and instead create something singular. You will reach fewer people broadly, but you will touch those you do reach more deeply.
Thinking that only what is shareable is worth creating runs the risk of minimizing the most poignant exchanges we can have. Brands might not traffic in the poignant, but they do want to be relevant. Perhaps poignancy and relevance are more related than we think and that is the uncanny valley for brands and influencers alike.
Philip L. McKenzie is an anthropologist who uses his expertise in culture to advise organizations on how best to thrive in an increasingly challenging and uncertain environment.
Appeared first in MediaVillage